NOVEMBER 8, 2020

The way you think about something or some experience determines what decision you take. Choose an open way of thinking and you will always take the right decisions.

-Prabhsimrat Gill

   What do you think spreads faster, the news of steady economic growth in the country or the news of a terror attack on the nation’s capital? If both of these events happened at the same time, which one would make most of the headlines? It is the terror attack, but why? Why does negative news spread fast and why do we accept it? Find out the answers to these questions in this blog about the Negativity Bias.    

Dr Wayne Dyer has rightly said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” What do you understand from this? I understand that it is the perspective and how things are presented that determines how our mind interprets them, and often with the change in the manner of representation, the interpretation also changes.

   Perspective and vision are two very important aspects of understanding things on a psychological level. It is how information is presented to you that determines what you will interpret from it. When you look at the same thing from two different angles, you see different perspectives and opinions. Now, what goes on in your mind when you see the same thing from different viewpoints is really interesting, and that is called the Negativity Bias.

   So, what is the Negativity Bias? It means that your mind is naturally biased towards negative things and therefore it reacts more quickly to the negative aspect of something than the positive aspect. As a result, your mind gives more energy and attention to the negative aspect of that thing. It is a natural tendency and there is nothing wrong about it, but the way it manipulates your thinking is very intriguing.

   Whenever you turn on a news channel, what kind of news do you see flashing in front of your eyes most of the time? It is negative news! Why? Because the media companies know that people react more quickly to negative news and they pay more attention to it. Whenever you see an advertisement, what kind of information do they provide? A problem and then a solution, right? This is again because the negativity bias will play out its role and will grab your attention by personalising the problems and making them sound like your problems.

   Now, when you look at something from a positive perspective and then from a negative perspective, you will notice that your mind reacts very differently each time. The biggest impact of this Negativity Bias is on the decision making done by you, let’s see how. When you go to a supermarket and pick up a packet of chips that is stated as healthy, do you pick up the one that says, “Healthy Chips: 90% fat-free!” or you choose the one that says, “Healthy Chips: Only 10% fat!”? The obvious answer is the first one because the negativity bias exaggerates that ten per cent and you think, “Oh my god! The company calls the chips with 10% fat to be healthy?” Well actually, both the things(90% fat-free and 10% fat) mean exactly the same, it is just our mind that perceives it differently.

   Another place where this trick is used to influence our decisions is in presenting data through advertising. If a toothpaste brand needs to promote its toothpaste, it will say something like, “7 out of 10 dentists recommend this toothpaste! Buy it now and try it for yourself!” but it will rarely say something like, “Only 3 out of 10 dentists don’t recommend this toothpaste! Try out and see why it is the best!” The second kind of advertisement will not attract any customers because the negativity bias of the consumer’s mind thinks that the toothpaste is very bad and that is why 3 out of every 10 dentists don’t recommend it. However, when the advertisement that tells the consumer that 7 out of 10 dentists recommend it, the consumers will feel that it must be a good toothpaste because of which 70% dentists recommend it. The ratings are the same, it is only how they are presented that makes the difference.

   As the negativity bias affects your ability of decision making, you need to know how you can consciously control your decisions and find out if some decisions are being manipulated through this natural behaviour of yours. There are various ways in which you can oppose the negativity bias and try to make better decisions:-

  1. Pause for a moment and think from the opposite perspective. No matter what situation you may be in, thinking from the opposite perspective about the same thing is truly beneficial. For example, you are about to make a deal of licensing a contract for the manufacturing of your company’s main product. The prospective manufacturer tells you that only 10% of his clients have not found him satisfactory. Now, you become a little hesitant and your negative bias kicks in, telling you to stop the deal right away. But, if you consciously think of the situation in the opposite perspective, you will find that 90% of his clients have found his service to be satisfactory and that is a pretty good percentage. Remember, no matter what kind of a situation you may be in, thinking about the opposite perspective will surely give you clarity.
  2. Understand how you would react if the thing in question was told to you in the opposite way the first time. This is a particularly great technique to understand the difference in your reactions when something is presented either negatively or positively. This can be particularly important when you know what the opposite of the current response will be but you are unsure of your decision. Thus, you should simply think that you are presented the same situation in the opposite way for the first time, and observe your reaction then. Let’s say that you are told to work with the team of people whom you despise the most. Your first reaction would be that of hatred and disgust. But if you stopped right then and there to compare your reaction to what it would have been if the team you were assigned was the one you loved, your reaction would be one of happiness and enthusiasm. Now, you can compare these two reactions, and if you feel that working with the team you don’t like is fine for a short project, then you were just exaggerating based on your negativity bias. This way, you need to understand what your reaction would have been the other way if the same situation was presented like that. You will surely gain clarity.

   Thank you so much for reading! I hope that through this blog you gained new insights about how to deal with the negativity bias and take better decisions. If you think that someone else can also find this blog useful, then share it with them right away! If you have any questions, do drop them in the comment box below or send me a personal email. I will also love to hear your feedback in the comments below and I will surely reply!

Once again, thank you so much for reading! Well wishes,